Meeting Kerala's IT Challenges

One-day Workshop on Kerala's Information Technology Policy


State Information Technology Policy- A Critique

Roy Mathew

July 26, 1998

Press Club, Trivandrum

Kerala, India

The Information Technology Policy, announced by the Industries Minister of Kerala, Mrs. Suseela Gopalan, recently, fails to give a crystallised view of the Government's plans in several areas. It abounds in general statements of intentions, and goes into specifics only with respect to the proposal to have a state information infrastructure and measures for enhancement of industry base.
The policy, however, marks an about turn for the leftist parties which had been opposing computerisation untill a few years ago, arguing that it would cause loss of jobs. The policy not only hopes that information technology would help to create large scale employment but also gives it an ideological aura by surmising that it may lead to redistribution of wealth. (Forget the monopolies of Microsoft, Intel etc.).
The policy dreams of a hundred per cent Internetised State, a very truly, information society emerging soon in the State. However, the document elsewhere realistically plan for only a PC penetration of ten per thousand of the population by year 2001.
The policy, in general terms, does emphasis enhancement of Government services to the people through use of information technology. However, the priorities are not clearly stated. The few measures like fixing computer proficiency as a desirable qualification for promotions and increments are not going to bring about computerisation of Government departments in five years time. More compulsion and incentives would be needed.
The Government departments need to have local area networks, wide area networks and intranets before they begin to maintain Internet sites for public information and interaction. (There is mention about intranet in the policy only with respect to panchayat level intranets for public use.)
The Industries Department can start the ball rolling by setting up intranets connecting its offices and other relevant agencies like Kerala Financial Corporation and the State Pollution Control Board in a year's time. As the industry has embraced computerisation on its own momentum, the Industries Department stands as the best candidate for early computerisation and delivery of its services through computer links. The policy is probably speaking of this when it says that information technology will be used at every Government-business interface to provide better services and enhance speedy execution of Government policies.
Fast computerisation of Government offices can work as an impetus for businesses related to computers in the State. If the Government goes high tech, the private agencies will follow suit. The policy gives no hind whether computerisation of the Government offices would benefit local software developers (as against vendors). The only mention in the document on this is about promotion of Malayalam user interface and web browser tools. Orders from Government for software development can kick start the local industry.
The policy seems to assume that computersation of Government offices would automatically result in a very responsive and transparent administration. This is unlikely unless the Government takes deliberate measures to make it happen. Red tapism (without the tapes) can exist even when everything is computerised. Laws and policy decisions will be needed to make the administration transparent. The Government now seems to think of transparency only at the panchayat level and not at the State level. Besides, it wants to club the Information Technology Policy with its decentralised planning campaign. There is also the move to use the information infrastructure for extension and also for Government publicity.
These may bring about some distortions. The overall impact of information technology is neutral to decentralisation. The intranet technology aids decentralisation while the communication part of the technology speeds up information gathering helpful to centralised decision making.
Computers have helped business, communication, research and education. But it is unlikely to become an important tool for extension work in the near future. True that computers are emerging as a medium of mass communication. But the use of computer as a medium of mass communication, that too for extension purposes, will require special skills. New methods for presentation of content would have to be evolved and their efficiency tested. But, as it stands now, our departments and extension agencies are far from gaining such skills. Only the Animal Husbandry department has so far gone for some degree of computerisation (for its own internal use). The Farm Information Bureau does not even have a single computer. The Agriculture, Fisheries and other Departments will have to first get into the habit of using computers for its own internal needs before they can reach out to the public through the medium.
Then effectiveness of any extension or publicity strategy will be limited by the fact that the PC penetration in 2001 will be one per 100 or less. A person will be able to make good use of computers or Internet only if a machine is available at his office or home, not at kiosks.
The policy proposes establishment of Internet kiosks in villages. As I just mentioned, people can not make good use of Internet through kiosks though it may be handy in sending an occasional E-mail or browse an Internet site for some badly needed information. Moreover, I feel that if these kiosks are to be publicly funded, it may prove to be a waste of resources. The kiosks might end up like the public televisions installed by panchayats in the past-- seen by limited number of people and in disrepair most of the time. It would be better to allow the private sector to step in an provide various communication services.
One of the most welcome proposals in the policy is to have Internet connections in colleges and schools. However, it is not sufficient to have single connections. Internet and E-mail should be available in universities and schools through local area networks linked to the service providers. All teachers and researchers should get individual terminals and E-mail addresses. Many terminals should be provided in the libraries for graduate and post graduate students.
The State Information Infrastructure is critical to this and its development will largely depend on the Central Government's and the Telecommunication Department's attitudes. Our neigbouring States are ahead of us and we have to see that we do not get the step motherly attitude from the Centre to which we have become used to. We can immediately make use of the ISDN connections available in some cities and towns of the State.I have devoted much of this paper for criticism of the policy. If have left out some aspects of the policy because I could not find anything to criticise. So, you can assume that I find no objection to those proposals. The policy mission is laudable and widespread embrace of IT can change the face of Kerala.
IT policy 1998
Critique of IT Policy 2001
Varthaveeksham--Commentary broadcast by All India Radio on IT
Roy's Home Page  Title   Contents  Study on Hydel Projects   Great Whale Project   Dam Safety

Integrated Resources Planning   Niagara Falls Power Stations    Photo Folio     Biodata and more